The Keith Brothers – J. Andrew and William H. Keith Jr – were integral in the development of the Traveller Roleplaying Game during its Golden Age: The Little Black Books era (late 70s to mid-80s). They wrote so many of the Classic Traveller adventures and supplements, that they had to use pseudonyms.
In MegaTraveller Journal, issue 3, Rob Caswell interviewed the duo. For context, in 1992 Classic Traveller was a memory, and even the MegaTraveller RPG was at the end of its run. Andrew Keith would tragically pass away in 1999. I don’t know if this was his last interview, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were. (William H. Keith is still writing novels today!)
MTJ3 is long out of print, and lacks a legal PDF version. (I do have a few Journals in the shop at the moment for $10). So I thought I’d summarize the take-aways from the Keith Brothers Interview.
MegaTraveller Journal, Issue 3
1992 … Digest Group Publications (DGP 203)
Articles: Rapid Repo By Greg Videll; Worldguide: Vincennes By Charles P. Kalina; Megacorporations in the Rebellion Era By Greg Videll and Tom Peters; Races of the Domain: The Creduthaar By William H. Keith, Jr; Deneb Dossier: Jeramii Boden By Rob Caswell; Sydkai-class Cruiser By George MacLure and Rob Prior; Domain of Deneb System Data By Joe D. Fugate, Sr. and Rob Caswell; Keith Brothers Interview By Rob Caswell; Races of the Domain: The Jonkeereen By James Maliszewski.
About the Cover: “A group of Scouts, using atmospheric reentry kits, do a practice deorbit drop into the atmosphere of Atsah. The smaller pod in the background is a slaved unit carrying the genetically modified animal members (“genas”) of the party. Painting by Blair Reynolds.”
J. Andrew Keith (JAK): Was a clerk in a grocery store, and a wargame fan. Submitted a few articles for the then-new Traveller RPG. Loren Wiseman loved JAK’s work. Andrew introduced William: “Hey, this is a great way to make some money. You’re an artist, do some art for them. They need it.”
William H. Keith Jr. (WHK): Was working as a commercial artist. Sent off a package of his art to Wiseman, who replied: “We’ll buy all of it. Send us more.”
The Keith Brothers became known at Game Designers Workshop (GDW) for their productivity, creative work, ability to meet deadlines, and accepting assignments on short notice.
Around 1980-81, Marc Miller introduced them to Jordan Wiseman of FASA, which was developing their own licensed Traveller material.
WHK: “Jordan needed artwork. He just had very simple line drawings on the covers of his products. And he needed someone who could string words together for descriptions of ship interiors and adventures to go with them. FASA was voracious for new material for their product line.”
William noted that some game writers would take on an assignment, and return an article that doesn’t really fit with the theme of a given game. The Keiths’ understanding of Traveller made them “Go-betweens” with FASA and GDW.
Differences between FASA and GDW (JAK): “I think FASA was always open to more free-wheeling, action-oriented adventures. Things like Uraqyad’n of the Seven Pillars and the Sky Raiders trilogy. Y’know, slam-bang, action adventure stuff. GDW liked the more cerebral adventures. Things like my Murder on Arcturus Station.” FASA was more able to accept the brother’s prodigious writing.
But opportunities did open up at GDW (JAK): “The first one we did for GDW was the double adventure, Chamax Plague/Horde. I don’t think we did another one until Nomads of the World Ocean? We did do part of another double, Night of Conquest/Divine Intervention.”
Their output in both writing and art was great enough that even FASA couldn’t keep up. So they started their own company, Marischal Adventures. (See also: Cargonaut Press)
WHK: “Rather than these monstrous, twenty-dollar mega-adventures that go on for years and years, something that players and a referee can get together and play in an evening or two. Everyone’s happy, the characters get their diamonds the size of a fist, and they can go on to something else. We came out with four of these folios which sold for $1.50 each.”
Andrew noted that the first 3 folios were money-makers, but they had to change printers, pricing them out of profitability.
A reader did a word frequency analysis, and determined that John Marshal, Keith Douglass, and John Andrew Keith were the same person! The Keith Brothers’ output was so high, they’d taken on numerous pen names, so as to not seemingly dominate Traveller writing.
This continues in WHK’s fiction novels to this day. If you enjoy military sci-fi, you may have read his work without knowing it. Some WHK pseudonyms: Robert Cain, Keith Douglass, H. Jay Riker, Ian Douglas.
Caswell asked the brothers what they reckoned to be the area of most influence in Traveller. They spoke about the K’kree, aliens nicknamed “Centaurs”. WHK had wrote “…quite an involved background, history, physiology, and psychology on the K’kree. As a matter of fact, at that point, they were just centaurs. I invented the name “K’kree” and came up with most of the other details about them.” JAK noted that WHK had been a hospital corpsman in the Navy, which informed his write-ups on alien biology.
This was a collaboration with John Harshman of GDW, giving the brothers input on the development of the Aslan and Hivers.
William H. Keith art: K’kree and Hiver
The brothers went on to write science fiction after Traveller. They noted their collaboration on the Freedom’s Rangers series (as Keith William Andrews). JAK: “a very strange hodge-podge of action adventure, commie bashing, and time travel.” Also, they switched back-and-forth writing the Carrier series.
They noted other books they wrote: Battletech novels, Buck Rogers for TSR, Warstrider.
JAK: “I’m doing a sort of “foreign legion in space” series called The Fifth Foreign Legion. It’s due out in January ’92 , if f recall. The first two of those are officially collaborations between Bill and I, although when we collaborate, usually one of us does most of the work and the other provides input.”
The Fifth Foreign Legion is an excellent series. Reminds me a lot of the 2300AD game, thematically.
WHK: “I really, honestly do love Traveller – especially the older rules, where you just have six numbers for your stats and left almost everything else up to the imagination. I think it’s one of the finest role-playing games that’s ever been created. Not to criticize what came later, but the earlier Traveller just had such a marvelous simplicity.”
William H. Keith wrote most of the Poland modules for the Twilight 2000 RPG, and several others as well. The open play, player-led Sandbox gaming style of early Twilight 2000 can be traced to WHK. Here is our ongoing Twilight 2000 campaign: FROM POLAND TO AMERICA: OUR CLASSIC TWILIGHT 2000 RPG CAMPAIGN